Published Oct 20, 2011It's never been easy for San Francisco-based weird metallers Hammers of Misfortune. Long under the radar, the band have been critically fawned over but never really caught on with the longhaired masses. That might actually change with their upcoming new album, 17th Street, which finds the band, finally, on a larger label, long-running metal mainstay Metal Blade Records.
But even if Hammers of Misfortune don't become a household name with 17th Street, which follows up 2008's Fields/Church of Broken Glass and is set to drop on October 25, they're okay with that. Guitarist/vocalist John Cobbett admits that the band are just, well, different. And considering their sound is a wholly unique amalgam of traditional metal, folk metal, power metal and progressive metal (and, unlike half of those genres, it doesn't totally suck), we'd have to agree with him.
"I never set out to be a nonconformist," Cobbett tells Exclaim! "We were never trying to be different. In the end, you just have to be yourself, even if that means you'll never be popular. At the same time, we never really tried to fit in... and it turns out that we don't fit in. When you look at it that way, the music scene looks like some kind of popularity contest and it feels good to be ignored by the majority. If we are misfits, and misfits relate to us, that works for me. Also, I'm terrible at self promotion, and I'm told that our music is hard to describe and hard to 'market.' I'm sure these are contributing factors."
The uniqueness of the band goes right through to such things as cover art and album titles, 17th Street not exactly sounding like something most metal bands would name an album. Cobbett says that the name had been kicking around in his head for a song title for a long time, so he finally wrote the song, which, late in the process, became the album's title track.
"There's a 17th Street in my neighbourhood, just like in most U.S. towns and cities," he says. "My 17th Street is different from other people's 17th Street, but chances are if you live in the U.S., you have a 17th Street. That's kind of the point, if that makes any sense."
The album also features the band's '70s sounds, prominent through not just the ambitious arrangements and prog-rock stylings that peer in through their mish-mash of modern metal, but also through natural-sounding old-school instrumentation.
"I hear they had all kinds of cool stuff in the '70s like roadies, groupies and record sales, but surely that only happened for a small minority of artists," says Cobbett. "Anyway, we get the '70s comparison a lot. Maybe because we don't use digital keyboards, just piano and organ. Maybe because we're more interested in songwriting than creating a specifically targeted wall of sound. We don't try to sound like we're from another time or place. We're just using sounds and techniques that sound good to us.
"One thing I can say for sure, records from the '70s sound a hell of a lot better than stuff coming out now. Hyper-compressed mixes and blatantly auto-tuned vocals sound horrible. Someday soon I hope we all look back and laugh at this nonsense."
And as far as the accusations of being so unique go, Cobbett brushes that off, saying that, really, "it's not too hard."
"Hammers of Misfortune is primarily an exercise in songwriting, and making coherent albums," he says. "That was the idea from the beginning. It seems that a lot of bands start with the intent of playing a certain kind of music. Our aim is to write the best songs we can, and try to render them with the best arrangements we can think of. I had no idea that this would set us apart or make us seem unique, but I guess it has."
2. "17th Street"
3. "The Grain"
4. "Staring (The 31st Floor)"
5. "The Day the City Died"
6. "Romance Valley"
7. "Summer Tears"
8. "Grey Wednesday"
9. "Going Somewhere"